by Jean-Marie Besset translated by Lisa Forrell adapted by David Eldridge.
Belgrade Theatre (B2) To 14 November 2009.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.45pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 024 7655 3055.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 9 November.
An evening that, without gripping, never lets go.
As an American film it would have been full-colour noir with gore, tense music and inserted thrills. As French cinema it would have had moodiness and style, deepening the sense of character psychology and the distinction between the possessing and the dispossessed among Parisian lives in the fashionable street of the title, home of a newspaper director whose journey through the lobby of his apartment-block late one Christmas Eve is crucially interrupted.
But on the French stage Jean-Marie Besset’s Babylon (Rue de Babylone) and its real-time action belongs to the French temperament that produced new vagues and romans, as well as Existentialism. Like Bernard-Marie Koltès’ In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, this is mainly talk, any momentary action a mere caesura to the verbiage, before – here – bringing things to a summary conclusion.
Neither character is sympathetic, at least not in Hamish Glen’s Coventry production. When Gentilhomme lets Homme into his life, he thinks it’s only for a dismissive 35 centime handout and the casual complicity of permission to sleep in the lobby’s comparative warmth. That would be life, and that would never do; not for this playwright, or his home audiences – the play was apparently a success at its 2004 premiere in France.
The character names field a warning. Abstractions and generalisations once had their point, but for some time now characters named generically, Besset’s Homme and Gentilhomme even more than Koltès’ Dealer and Client, have suggested dramatic sketchiness. The plays share an apparently random meeting where one character, like a burr, sticks to the other, developing an air of menace.
Koltès, however, has more to say about the tensions of transactional pressures in his persistent abstraction, than Bessset in this piece, which, despite heavy-duty abstractions and occasional literary quotations, collapses into a personal revenge drama, reflecting also on the hypocrisy of respectability.
If the play hardly convinces, neither do the actors, Peter Tate ponderously declaring his lines, Johnnie Lyne-Perkis barking of voice and rubbery in limb as if in tetchy search of a believable character. Only the cold affluence of Libby Watson’s design makes any real impact.
Homme: Peter Tate.
Gentilhomme: Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis.
Director: Hamish Glen.
Designer: Libby Watson.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound: Martyn Davies.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Amy Bonsall.